‘I wouldn’t answer her, if I were you,’ said Camilla.
‘I really don’t think this can do any good,’ said Mrs French.
‘And it is so very harassing to our nerves,’ said Arabella.
‘Nerves! Pooh!’ exclaimed Miss Stanbury. ’Now, Mr Gibson, I am waiting for an answer.’
’My dear Miss Stanbury, I really think it better the situation is so peculiar, and, upon my word, I hardly know how not to give offence, which I wouldn’t do for the world.’
‘Do you mean to tell me that you won’t answer my question?’ demanded Miss Stanbury.
‘I really think that I had better hold my tongue,’ pleaded Mr Gibson.
‘You are quite right, Mr Gibson,’ said Camilla.
‘Indeed, it is wisest,’ said Mrs French.
‘I don’t see what else he can do,’ said Arabella.
Then was Miss Stanbury driven altogether beyond her powers of endurance. ‘If that be so,’ said she, ’I must speak out, though I should have preferred to hold my tongue. Mr Gibson did offer to my niece the week before last twice, and was refused by her. My niece, Dorothy, took it into her head that she did not like him; and, upon my word, I think she was right. We should have said nothing about this, not a word; but when these false assertions are made on Mr Gibson’s alleged authority, and Mr Gibson won’t deny it, I must tell the truth.’ Then there was silence among them for a few seconds, and Mr Gibson struggled hard, but vainly, to clothe his face in a pleasant smile. ’Mr Gibson, is that true?’ said Miss Stanbury. But Mr Gibson made no reply. ’It is as true as heaven,’ said Miss Stanbury, striking her hand upon the table. ’And now you had better, all of you, hold your tongues about my niece, and she will hold her tongue about you. And as for Mr Gibson, anybody who wants him after this is welcome to him for us. Good-morning, Mrs French; good-morning, young ladies.’ And so she stalked out of the room, and out of the house, and walked back to her house in the Close.
‘Mamma,’ said Arabella as soon as the enemy was gone, ’I have got such a headache that I think I will go upstairs.’
‘And I will go with you, dear,’ said Camilla.
Mr Gibson, before he left the house, confided his secret to the maternal ears of Mrs French. He certainly had been allured into making an offer to Dorothy Stanbury, but was ready to atone for this crime by marrying her daughter Camilla as soon as might be convenient. He was certainly driven to make this declaration by intense cowardice—not to excuse himself, for in that there could be no excuse—but how else should he dare to suggest that he might as well leave the house? ’Shall I tell the dear girl?’ asked Mrs French. But Mr Gibson requested a fortnight, in which to consider how the proposition had best be made.
MR BROOKE BURGESS AFTER SUPPER